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László Garai Theoretical Psychology Vygotskian Writings Теоретическая психология Выготскианские тексты contents


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Crisis and social categorization


By 1973, the Department of Personality Psychology had completed the process of formu­lating its theoretical assumptions and methodological ideas. Paradoxically, this resulted in a state of crisis.

Garai’s visit to France in 1973 had a catalytic effect in recognizing the crisis itself. The visit had been planned to be a follow-up of the one two years earlier. At that time, in 1971, the associates of the Laboratory of Social Psychology of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes had taken much interest in the theoretical assumptions of the Hungarian team, and a suggestion had been made to test them in comparative studies to be underta­ken by the two scientific institutions embedded in different social structures. In 1973, however, when the experimental methodology based on “Monopoly” was proposed as a research tool, the associates of the Frenech Laboratory qualified the idea as a “typical ma­noeuvre of bourgeois ideology” and this was by no means only the opinion of Marxians.

The objection proved justifiable on the basis of the argument that follows. The totality-oriented assumptions of the theory are related to the question of whether a kind of social structure should survive or not, whereas the experimental method, by the very requirement of repeatability of the experiment, implies an a priori decision in favour of the survival of this structure (cf. Adorno et al, 1976) and it represents this pre-experimental, extra-scientific, ideological procedure as if it had become scientifically verified by the experiment.

The Department had to face a dilemma: (1) Either one could go on with the further elabo­ration of a production-centered psychology which originally had been developed in order to answer the questions raised by the social praxis of the sixties. Such a psychological theory, however, cannot apply the traditional procedures of scientific verification but is, instead, obliged to find the justification of its approach in the social praxis of the seventies; (2) Or, one could return to purely psychological theories, geared to traditional procedures of verification.

During his stay in France, Garai was asked to prepare a contribution to a special issue of a UNESCO journal on the crises in psychology and psychiatry. In this article (Garai, 1973b), he attempted to delimit the areas of competence of pure psychology and psychotechnics (a field detached from political practice and ideological theory). It was found that, while psychology and psychotechnics are capable of dealing with the development of the various abilities and even with developing them, these disciplines are not competent in questions of needs.

In the light of this conclusion, the Department was faced by the alternative of either carrying on with the production-centered study of needs, thus giving up all expectations of psychological verification, or having recourse to purely psychological procedures, thus abandoning any illusion of apprehending the phenomena of needs and motivation.

In order to understand this grave situation better, it should be mentioned that the very reason for setting up the Department at the Institute of Psychology had been a desire to investigate the needs of personality, that is, human motivation.

In the first part of the crisis period, the activities at the Department bifurcated. One group investigated the possibilities of nonexperimental methods (questionnaires, sociometry) of pure and applied psychology. Another group examined ways of conceptualizing in pure psychology in order to see which of the phenomena tackled in the period prior to the crisis (conflict, decision, rationalization, personal memory, etc.) could be described by these means.

This period of work was characterized by mutual hostility and repeated exchange of derogatory opinions. Indeed, what happened at that time was that the points of identity and of difference in opinion which had always existed among the members of the Department became sharpened by the crisis and, losing all nuances were elaborated into downright, categorical identities or categorical differences. When, in search of new possibilities of conceptualization, the members eventually considered the uses to which the concept of social categorization might be put, this concept turned out to be suitable first, in a purely psycho­logical non-production-centered approach for describing other crisis situations analogous to that within the Department. Following this discovery, “social categorization” became the central term of conceptualization.

Naturally, the concept underwent some modification of meaning in comparison to the way it has been used, following Tajfel, in the social psychological literature (cf. Garai, 1976). The most important difference was that the Department’s works also contained reference to the type of social categorization which does not presuppose the conscious activity of the self since, on the contrary, it is even a precondition for the development of the consciously acting self (Köcski, 1976). Consequently, social categorization is also recognizable at the sub-human level, mainly in the way certain individuals of a species occupy a part of the living space as their own territory and keep others of the same species away. It is considered to be a higher-order manifestation of social categorization when, within the category thus established, a structure develops in the assemblage in which a given position, e.g. that of flock leader, is steadily occupied by one individual to the exclusion of all others.

In both cases categorization is mediated by some kind of signalization. Along with a category forming within the population, or a narrow category within the broader one, there appears a set of signals (motor, vocal, postural, secretory, vaso-motor, pigmentary or still others) which signifies that the individual belongs to the category in question (cf. Köcski and Garai, 1975).

Complementing the methods of developmental psychology (Járó, 1975a), in which she had displayed such great expertise, Járó (1973), with the assistance of Veres, elaborated complex methods, combining various social psychological techniques, for use in field investigations related to the development of social abilities on the one hand, and to the social factors of psychic development on the other. These methods seemed suitable for an initial approach not production-centred, but purely psychological to the type of phenomena that had been in the foreground of the Department’s interest in the earlier period.

It was in an atmosphere of prolonged crisis that the preparations for the European Conference on Social Psychology in 1974 at Visegrád were made. Prior to the Conferen­ce, the Department had discussed Garai’s and Erős’ papers. As a contribution to the theme “The social psychology of social change” which he had proposed placing on the agenda, Garai made an attempt to present the production-centered theory under the title “Is Social change motivated?” (Garai, 1974). The subject chosen by Erős was a characteristic expression of the fundamental problem of the Department, an interior problem, but one which all humanistic studies starting in the sixties and continuing in the seventies had to face: what are critical questions about society destined to become, once they are integrated in social research based on the methodological groundwork of “abstract empiricism” and “middle range theory”. (See Erős, 1974, who illustrates this point in an analysis of The authoritarian personality).

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